Experts offer students advice on starting a spinoff

On February 14, a group of researchers and students at the University of Calgary (U of C) met over a pizza lunch to discuss commercialization and company formation. An exciting round table discussion included experts such as Steve Larter (CMC Scientific Director and CEO of Gushor Inc.), Frank Maurer (Associate Vice-President of Research at the U of C), David Keith (President of Carbon Engineering) and Claude Laflamme (President of Lyryx Learning Inc.). Students got fired up about becoming entrepreneurs and discussion revolved around pathways of commercialization, networking, acquiring capital, and potential pitfalls.

Students were told that it’s possible to be both an academic and have a business. Forming a successful spinoff company requires passion, team effort (HR, marketing, business, accounting, legal, etc.), and guidance from real entrepreneurs. It was recommended that new entrepreneurs ‘put their eggs in many different baskets’ and not focus on developing just one technology. Developing a “hodge-podge” portfolio will lead to better success at catching industrial interest.

Participants were also told that funding is available in many forms including external funding, angel investors, venture capital, and internal funding. All have their respective advantages and disadvantages.

Faculty members are a great resource to help students form a company. Also discussed was the development of the following resources to help guide budding entrepreneurs:

  • a list of all government programs available for start-up companies,
  • an entrepreneur course at the graduate level, and
  • an on-staff, researcher/entrepreneur.

This was a great opportunity to get experts together with students and begin a discussion on the topic of starting a spinoff company. Future events could include a visit to an entrepreneur’s business, or a field trip to view a company’s technology.